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  • La creazione del passato: sulla modernità culturale
  • Jon R. Snyder
Francesco Erspamer . La creazione del passato: sulla modernità culturale. Palermo: Sellerio, 2009. 197 pages.

La creazione del passato (CP) is an ambitious work of cultural theory, ranging across disciplines, languages, centuries and European national traditions, whose aim is nothing less than to reorient humanistic and literary study as we know it. Erspamer confronts here the giants of modern thought, including Vico, Croce, Gramsci, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Habermas, Foucault, Feyerabend, and Derrida. Yet, through a technique of juxtaposition intended to embody the thesis of the work, CP is also larded with references to Hollywood films, dime-store romances, political slogans and other products of American and Italian popular culture. Although written in Italian, it only peripherally [End Page 250] addresses past or present Italian literature and culture. Its agenda is rather to jolt Italian literary studies, above all in Italy, out of an ingrained tendency towards isolation from currents and modes of critical thinking that do not originate in the Italian academy, and that do not in any case privilege the study of the past over that of contemporary culture. CP 's fierce intellectual energy, passion and rigor are matched by an unusual stylistic elegance that owes much to the author's literary affinities with Leopardi and Pasolini.

What is the central thesis of CP? The science/culture split has key ramifications for the development of the democratic expression of culture in the twenty-first century. The study of culture has become the study of the culture of the past, in order to contrast the hegemonic power of science, technology, and capital over the present. Culture has (or rather the interpreters of culture have) consequently promoted a competing version of reality—a sacralized cluster of absolute values centered around a nostalgia for the past, textual canons and a mistrust of mass culture—which is in fact reactionary in nature. If modernity has proven to be a process of fragmentation, dispersion, and production of ephemera, then the culture of the past seeks to unify or to recuperate what has been (or to speak of its absence nostalgically), rather than to face the present as it is. Scientific methods have rendered metaphysics "physical" or "anthropological" in modernity, projecting humanity toward a (different) future of endless, infinite change or progress: the subject of modernity is destined to become different in time. Culture, on the other hand, proposes an alternate model in which the subject discovers itself to be different in spatial, synchronic and even ontological terms, because everything "is" different in a system of cultural diversity and alterity. Cultural critics delimit the concept of time, rather than space, through "the creation of the past," the antipositivist invention of a body of texts to be studied and revered. A key role in the creation of the culture of the past has therefore been played by those intellectuals who not only invent but theologize the past. They construct illusory normative discourses of common identity (i.e. Kultur) to manipulate and condition the present; favor elite modes of idealism over the anarchy of a truly de-centered and democratic knowledge; and defend the status quo, even when claiming to subvert it. The "crisis of culture" today, Erspamer notes, is rather a crisis of the institution of culture and its parasitical apparatchiks.

In CP, Romanticism and its offshoots—historicism, hermeneutics, anthropology—bear the brunt of blame for this situation of reductio ad unum. In particular, Heidegger appears as the philosopher who most openly theorizes the primacy of time and being in relation to culture. In stark contrast, Erspamer argues for an acceptance of the past and future as non-identical to the present, which does not resemble them (past and future "have nothing to do with us"). That is why, however, they should be of interest to us: the aim of thought (and of a new culture) should be to take us where we have never been, leading us to renounce not the past itself, but a past invented as present. The past is instead a repository of heterogeneous material, freely available for use without regard for spatial contiguity or temporal continuity. This freedom [End Page...


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